About three years ago Ken White and Todd Miller defeated Derek Acker and Jeff Gangi in the finals of a doubles tournament that was held at the Miller Tennis Center.
After the match, White, one of WNY’s all time tennis greats, approached Acker, and said, “Where the heck are you from? You have one of the hardest serves I’ve ever seen in Western New York. However, I’ve never seen you play before this tournament.”
Acker replied, “I recently moved back to this area from Santa Barbara, California, with my wife and kids to be near family.”
Since Acker has moved back to this area and presently resides in South Wales, he has won numerous tournaments and competed at the 4.5 level in USTA tournaments. His career highlight was winning the 40 & Over Senior Doubles with White in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the Fiesta Bowl 40 & Over National Championships in December.
White said, “The players the nationals couldn’t believe the speed on Derek’s serve. He was constantly serving at 125-130 miles per hour throughout the tournament.”
“I know it might sound hokey,” Acker said. ‘However, when I was a teenager, my dream was to win a national tennis title at any level of play. To win with my good friend and doubles partner Ken was a dream come true.”
In addition, he has won the Muny Open Mixed doubles with Andreea Novaceanu in 2011, the 9.0 Muny Men’s Doubles with White in 2012, and the 40 & Over Doubles with Gary Schutrum the same year. He also plays USTA tennis on a 4.5 Men’s team, 8.0 and 9.0 mixed Doubles team, and a 9.0 TriLevel Mixed team.
Acker, 42, started playing tennis at the age of 6 when his mother started dating one of the area’s local tennis pros in San Diego. He was put into a tennis class with much older students. When he was 12 he and his mother moved to Bonsall, Calif., and he started playing a lot at the San Luis Rey Downs Tennis Club. His overall game had been improving by leaps and bounds before he moved there.. Even though he was only 12 he would spend 10-15 minutes warming up older players before and after matches that they were playing at the club. He played many hours every day and continued to improve at an amazing rate.
Surprisingly, he had never taken a formal lesson until he was 14 years old. He was winning many local tournaments because of his serve, with which he could hit flat and slice with equal dexterity.
Even at this early age it was mind boggling at how hard he could hit his shots, especially his serve. At the age of 14 he started playing at the Woody Blocher Tennis Academy.
Blocher had 8 of the top juniors in the country training at his academy and needed housing for the students. Acker’s mom decided to have two of the kids stay with her and Derek. Derek was able to train with these players.
“I was so fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time,” Acker said. “I played Michael Chang in high school and would see him play the top juniors at Woody’s Club. Michael didn’t just defeat these top juniors. He demolished them. He was like a pit bull with a smile.”
When he was 15 it was time for another move. He moved to Poole, England (near London), to live with his father, who was a career pilot for the Air Force. Acker played for London Central High School and was undefeated at first singles for two years, compiling a scintillating 38-0 record.
Once moving back to the U.S., he unbelievably didn’t play any tennis in the ten years it took him to get his college degrees. In his senior year at Antioch College each student had to do a project called Service Learning. For his project he decided to teach tennis at the local YMCA for the semester to 4-6 year-olds. After he was done with the first session the YMCA received quite a few letters raving about what a great teacher he was.
Acker was all set to start playing tennis and get back into shape when he was hit with a devastating virus called Transverse Myelitis. It affected his spinal cord and he had extreme pain in his lower extremities. After almost a year, he joined the Santa Barbara Tennis Club to get back in shape and started playing tournaments and in USTA competition.
When Acker and his family moved back to Buffalo three years ago he started his own construction business called Straight Line General Contractors Incorporated. He didn’t know what to expect tennis-wise.
“The people have been great and the tennis is more than I could have hoped for,” he said.